No One Likes Making Tough Decisions

Memphis City Councilmen Jim Strickland (Left)
and Shea Flinn (Right)

Budget time can be contentious, regardless of the organization. As we saw in the waning days of this state legislative session it can be VERY contentious.

City budgets are no different, and are also facing the same pressures, if not more acutely, than the state government.

On June 8th, the Memphis City Council approved a budget for the coming fiscal year. The process had been contentious. In fact, if you just look at the articles by Amos Maki of the Commercial Appeal you can see just how much shifting had to occur.

But it seems there’s still a problem. A looming court decision over school funding could mean a tax hike of 52 cents per $100 of assessed value on property in Memphis, which, according to a presentation given by Councilman Shea Flinn on June 8th, already has the highest property tax rate of any urban county in the state.

To put that number in perspective, a person with a home valued at $170,000 would have to pay $225 in addition to the $3100 already paid to the City and County.

Flinn’s presentation laid out two options for dealing with the issue, wait and see, and his own proposal which would increase the tax rate by 17 cents over the next three years to cover the cost of the judgement.

In talking to Flinn yesterday, he expressed that while he preferred the proposal he laid out to prepare for this issue, a proposal that was defeated at the meeting on June 8th, he was also open to other ideas.

Yesterday that “other idea” was proposed by Jim Strickland. In a letter to Mayor Wharton and the City Council, Strickland offers an alternative that involves rolling back pay increases to city employees.

I don’t want to get into which one is better or worse. That’s not the point. The point is that there are now three ideas, wait and pray with a likely huge one time tax increase, a smaller tax increase spread over 3 years, or cut salaries. There are likely many more possibilities out there.

The issue for me is, there are 13 members of the City Council, and only two have come forward with a proposal to keep property owners from seeing a huge GOTCHA when city property tax bills come out in July. Or worse, when another whole round of bills have to be mailed out later in the year.

I don’t know about you, but I pay a mortgage. Every month a huge chunk of what I pay is put in escrow for my property taxes. If my tax bill increases, so does my mortgage payment. It’s already hard enough for me and thousands of people like me, who have seen a significant drop in income to make that monthly payment. God knows paying between $75 and $225 more this year is a burden for something that you would think would already be covered in a tax rate that’s 150% of Knoxville and 175% of Nashville. Where the hell is the money going?

I applaud Strickland and Flinn for at least putting something out there, but I wonder where the other 11 are and why they haven’t stepped out to deal with this issue. I also wonder why the administration didn’t deal with this in their budget in the first place.

No one likes making tough decisions, but like Flinn said at the end of this article:

We got elected to make the tough decisions. Do the damn work.”

I couldn’t agree more.

2 comments for “No One Likes Making Tough Decisions

  1. June 17, 2010 at 3:32 pm

    Steve, don’t forget the increase on your MLG&W bill. But, just wait for the retirement and the OPEB (other post employment benefits) funding requirements to hit us down the road, we’ll be screaming like a bunch of school girls. If Strickland believes we have too many employees on the city payroll now, the legacy cost will bury us. Look at the mess Herenton and crew left us with. Add up all the obligations in the CAFR, and you’ll see that this is unsustainable. With or without consolidation, something has to be done. The recent repackaging of city debt was just the latest trick in budget manipulation. You and I are going to see a property tax increase, it’s just a matter of how many of us will stay around.

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